The Shame of the Backslide…

Today I am writing about something that may seem only tangentially related to my themes for the year, but it actually ties into several of them. I want to talk a little bit about battling with feelings of shame when you backslide in one area or another, especially living in a culture that is obsessed with productivity and progress. It can feel so discouraging to experience a regression of any sort, and no one really wants to talk about that stuff, which is why I feel like it is really important to talk about my own struggles with the backslides I have had this year.

Let’s start with my word of the year- instrument. I chose it because I love the prayer Lord Make me an Instrument, but I also chose it because I was convinced this was the year I would come back to learning to play the banjo, and that my children would delve into their musical gifts we got them for Christmas. Several obstacles came up here after a pretty strong start. But between beginning of the year illnesses that wouldn’t quit, marathon training, and then start of school illness COMBINED with marathon training, I have had a huge backslide and that thing I said was a major goal for the year has not come to much. I can’t even remember the one song I knew back in February and all the calluses I had built up in those first few months have disappeared. I have been tempted to just call it quits, hope everyone forgot I had this on my radar this year, and quietly move on with my musical failure. Instead, I am trying to share how hard it is that I didn’t make as much progress as I wanted, and I have started taking the baby steps to tune back up my instrument, play some warm up chords, and re-learn that one song. Maybe I’ll know 2 songs by Christmas, maybe not, but I don’t want to give up on this hobby that could bring me a lot of joy.

Now let’s talk about something a little more nebulous and complex- anxiety. I can’t tell you how many times I think to myself- shouldn’t I have conquered this by now? Why am I facing the same struggle over and over again? Have I made ANY progress? Is it hopeless? Even in the midst of so many campaigns trying to normalize mental health struggles and even with all the journaling and therapy and physical movement, I feel so much shame each time I got through a period of high anxiety. Sometimes I still try to hide it as best I can instead of asking for the help I need. Sometimes I ask and feel awful and like a burden and I have to catch myself and remember that I would never talk to a friend the way I am talking to myself. The backslide is so hard. But I have to remember that regression does not mean I never made progress. Two steps forward one step back is still further than I was before and a little further with each step. Starting again is better than giving up because my path wasn’t perfect.

This is the same kind of self talk I am trying to remember with many other nebulous things and long term goals- my house (I felt like I was finally getting in a routine when marathon training and new very busy earlier than ever mornings threw that out the window), my parenting (the stress and exhaustion of the last few months has meant that I do not feel like I am mumming at my best), and this is true even in areas that might surprise regular readers-

Even amid all the miles and training I put in for the marathon I feel like my running has been through a regression. My pace is not what it was a year ago, or several years before that. I’m older, I’ve had more babies, illness has put my body through some major setbacks. And now that I don’t plan on running 30-40 mile weeks I am  a little worried I will just be set back even more. In some ways, that’s ok. I am looking for a lot more balance in life in general and also in

The illusive handstand…

my physical fitness, but when I think of other areas of that, I see regression there too. My yoga practice that I relied on so much during half marathon training definitely got shorter and more sparse during the massive time commitment of marathon training. I have lost my proficiency with many inversions and arm balances that I was making good progress on or finally feeling comfortable with. Also, my flexibility in general greatly diminished, especially with how tight my legs and hips are from running so many miles. I know the road back to those things is going to be slow and arduous and a lot of work, and it’s a lot less exciting to post about those things than to post about the wins of feeling more comfortable in a new asana, running the furthest I ever have, hitting a PR, etc.

But this brings me back to… why?! Why are we obsessed with a continual upward trajectory? Why does it feel so uncomfortable to talk about nonlinear progression, or perhaps no progression at all? I want to embrace seasonality over the relentless tempo of “good better best” as Kate Bowler puts it in her lovely podcast. But I also struggle with embracing that. I struggle with these backslides, with judging myself for them, and with figuring out when those backslides might be pointing to letting things go and trying something new, vs. taking a breath, giving myself grace, and starting again. So that’s where I am… almost a month post marathon still trying to make it off the struggle bus, but ready to do the work and figure out what’s next as the rest of the holidays and 2023 speed toward us.


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